Those who have driven a car are certainly familiar with the idea of blind spots – areas around you where you can’t see easily and are therefore uniquely vulnerable to threats. This principle applies to hunting asteroids just as easily. As telescope technology continues to advance, astronomers have used their scopes to look into those close regions of our solar system that are normally difficult to observe.
“This study shows that we still have ways to detect and track asteroids that could strike Earth.”
This brings us to recent telescopic observations at the Cerro Tololo Pan American Observatory in Chile. As scientists there published in September in the Astronomical Journal, there are three near-Earth asteroids (or NEAs) hiding within the sun’s glare, which apparently have not been observed before. These particular asteroids lurk between the orbits of Earth and its nearest sunward neighbor, Venus. One of them is the largest potentially dangerous NEA monitored in eight years.
This discovery is particularly worrisome because it indicates the existence of some potentially hazardous uncatalogued asteroids that humanity has missed in its quest to catalog and identify potential civilization-destroying asteroids or comets. In particular, the newly discovered asteroid called 2022 AP7 is orbiting the Sun in a way that might one day cross paths and hit Earth.
The B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on protecting the planet from the effects of dangerous alien objects, is focused on preventing humanity from suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs. “This study shows that we still have ways to detect and track asteroids that could strike Earth,” said Dr. Ed Low, three-time NASA astronaut and executive director of the B612 Foundation’s Asteroid Institute. “We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but this technology is only useful if we can detect and track asteroids first.”
The good news, Lu told Salon, is that “the vast majority (but not all) of asteroids large enough to wipe out human civilization have already been tracked.” However, there are many untracked asteroids that are smaller in size and, although not large enough to constitute an extinction event, could still wipe out millions of lives; These include asteroids of the size that can destroy the city. These types of space rocks are “thousands of times more numerous,” Lu noted, yet we only know “a small percentage” of them.
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Policymakers have sometimes attempted to compensate for this lack of knowledge. When they do, they only end up learning more about humanity’s urgent need for more information about all kinds of NEOs.
“In 2005, the US Congress mandated NASA to find 90% of all near-earth objects (NEOs) larger than 140 meters, the size of a football field,” Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb wrote to Salon. “So far, no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a high chance of hitting Earth within the next century. However, less than half of the 25,000 NEOs measuring 140 meters in size have been found so far.”
Less than half the estimated 25,000 [Near Earth Asteroids] which is 140 meters in size and the largest found so far.”
According to Lu, more efforts are being made to continue discovering asteroids like those recently discovered between the orbits of Venus and Earth. Thanks to the construction of new observatories such as the Vera Rubin Observatory (also in Chile) and the development of new computational techniques such as those produced by the Asteroid Institute, “we expect in a few years to greatly increase our ability to track asteroids and provide several decades of warning of potential impacts,” Lu told Salon. .
If nothing else, the discovery of asteroid 2021 PH27 – nearly a kilometer in size and, as Loeb noted, “has the closest approach to the Sun, 13% of the Earth-Sun separation, and by a turn the largest result of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, known to any body in solar system” – justify the use of this new technology.
“Accelerating the rate of asteroid discovery requires funding, whether it’s for a foundation like B612 or NASA,” Danica Remy, president of the B612 Foundation, wrote to Salon. “We, collectively, need funding and advocacy for the development of advanced computational tools and new monitoring capabilities.”
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